Human Capital & Careers

United Airlines CEO Backs Vaccine Mandate for Workers

"I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require [COVID] vaccines."
Matthew HellerJanuary 22, 2021

United Airlines may become one of the first companies to require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. “The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of co-workers that we have lost to the coronavirus,” United CEO Scott Kirby told employees at a virtual town.

“And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine — and I recognize it’s controversial — I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory,” he said.

United had 60,000 U.S.-based employees at the end of last year. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “Several big employers have said they would urge employees to be vaccinated, and some will offer incentives such as cash bonuses to do so. But few so far have mandated it.”

“I know that it’s the way to ensure the safety of our employees, ensure the safety of our customers, as we fly around the world,” Kirby said. “So, if others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it.”

According to United President Brett Hart, the airline has been trying to gain early access to the vaccine for its employees as essential workers. But getting its workforce vaccinated could face logistical hurdles. United’s “employees are dispersed around the country and have different levels of access to the vaccine depending on where they live,” the WSJ said.

“States have chosen to prioritize different groups for vaccination, so airline employees won’t necessarily be eligible to receive the vaccine everywhere at the same time.”

In select jurisdictions, like New York, airline crew are already eligible to receive the vaccine. “We need a federal approach that prioritizes flight attendants as essential workers facilitating interstate commerce,” a spokeswoman for the flight attendants’ union said.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)